Leila Abdulrahim, who designs hotel interiors, had to flee Lebanon's civil war as an adolescent and says that life experience has made her a survivor in any kind of situation. She talks about a day in her life.
A day in the life: losing everything is a good life experience
A Leila Abdulrahim is the director at the Dubai office of Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA), a hotel interior designer. Among her projects are The Opus hotel and serviced apartments and the Address Fountain Views hotel in Dubai.
The German citizen of Lebanese origin fled Lebanon’s civil war as an adolescent and that experience has made her a survivor, she says. Here, the 50-year-old, who moved to Dubai in 2003 from the United States, talks about her typical day.
I wake up and get myself ready. I am a single parent and have two daughters, Hana, 15, and Lina, 11 so I’m now learning what being a teenager is all about. My 11-year-old is a better cook than me and she makes smoothies in the morning. We leave home around 7am and I drop them at school on my way to work.
This is the time I reach the office. It is usually before most people come in and I check the priority list, about things that need to be done. We have 30 people in the office and that includes myself. Most of the day goes into responding to client and operator needs, such as spending their budget properly or designing rooms in keeping with the local cultures as well as operator standards. It takes around eight months to design a hotel interior. We also review every stone or fabric sample, so that what the client has approved is the same as what goes into the final product. In a hotel, we try to create harmony like a thread that runs through the different spaces, but that’s something we try to create and you shouldn’t be noticing consciously.
I have lunch around this time. If I remember, I bring in some leftovers from home. But if I am running, there is a place in the area that makes nice salads. I get it and come back to my desk. I check emails and eat at desk.
I make the rounds of what the staff or the client needs are. Besides managing the team, I am also working on design projects. I have a studio with eight to 10 projects on the table. One of the projects is Lagos Fairmont in Nigeria and I have just finished modelling the Kempinski Mall of the Emirates lobby; we turned a corridor that lead from the hotel to the mall into more than a link [between the two]. We created an Arabic art gallery where there is a lounge area on one side.
We close around this time and I encourage the staff to leave. I believe in a work-life balance, however, I leave by 7pm or sometimes 8pm. I love to finish by recapping the day’s work. I have a personal driver and he picks up my children from school, and sometimes takes them to after-school activities. They tend to their homework themselves.
I have a garden, which I enjoy. I spend some time here; it’s my serene time when I reflect on the day and life, what I am doing or not doing. This is my personal time, though when I come home initially I spend time with my children. We always close the day by reflecting on something good for the day. I encourage the children to keep a gratitude journal, where they write down things they are grateful for. We have a helper at home who is a wonderful cook. My daughters have dinner around 7pm with my nephew Luca, 23, who lives with us, and is like their big brother. I always love a nice mix of fruits for dinner.
This is the latest time I go to bed. My days are intense but in a good way. I was born in Lebanon, where my father had a furniture business [catering to] hotels, and we fled to Munich in 1975. When you lose everything from one day to the next, it is a very good life experience. The attitude of my father towards that and not developing any negativity or disgruntlement has stuck with me. If I lost everything tomorrow and had to bounce back, I know I could do it.